Phonics at four is hardly sound

1st December 2006 at 00:00
It is not only prescription in the national curriculum that causes concern ("Give us freedom to teach", TES, November 17). Recent government directives based on one recommendation from the Rose review of the teaching of early reading are also counter-productive.

Many involved with early years are concerned by the Government's insistence that phonics must be imposed on four-year-olds ("Experts to vet phonics books", TES, November 3). We all want children to become confident readers and we recognise the importance of understanding phonics, but we deplore the enforcement of "approved" phonics programmes on four-year-olds. These will enrich commercial interests while impoverishing meaning and motivation in children's learning.

Are ministers familiar with the review commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, which raises doubts about the exclusive use of phonics with four-year-olds? Do they realise that there are no studies validating their demands?

How do they reconcile the insistence on a single, prescribed approach which reduces teachers to technicians with the Rose recommendation that teachers use professional judgment in relation to their pupils? It will be no comfort to be able to say "We told you so" when children's reading competence has fallen. Why is a wealth of experience of early literacy ignored in favour of unfounded assertions?

If the Government is serious in its aim to raise the achievement of the most disadvantaged, it must ensure that those who do not get rich opportunities to learn language skills in playful ways at home, or whose home language is not English, have broad literacy experience when they start nursery or school. This means exploring spoken language, and reading for pleasure and meaning.

Signatories in full:

Wendy Scott

on behalf of the Early Year Curriculum Group and more than 100 individuals and national organisations

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